The demand for sports utility vehicles is threatening the UK’s attempts to clean up the transport sector.
Sales of new SUVs now outnumber electric vehicle sales at a rate of 37 to 1.
In its 2019 annual Review of Energy Policy, published yesterday, the UK Energy Research Centre examines some of the challenges of meeting the 2050 net zero emissions target.
The Review highlights how the trend towards purchasing bigger cars is threatening the UK’s attempts to reduce emissions from the transport sector. The report has calculated the impact that the purchase of SUVs is having on UK carbon emissions.
The trend is not unique to the UK. The International Energy Agency has estimated growth in SUVs accounts for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010, concluding that “SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010 after the power sector, but ahead of heavy industry including iron & steel, cement, aluminium, as well as trucks and aviation.”
Until recently, 8 out of 10 plug in electric vehicles sold were plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PEHVs), not pure battery electric vehicles. The majority of the PHEVs sold were also SUVs – specifically the Mitsubishi Outlander – showing that the popularity of SUVs exists within the EV market too. This means that even the relatively small number of electric vehicles that have been sold in the UK are consuming more energy than they need to.
The reasons for the increase in the number of SUVs require further research. They are likely to be a product of attractive car financing packages which divert attention from running costs. In 2018, over 90% of all private new car registrations in the UK were purchased using finance products such as Personal Contract Purchase. PCP deals wrap the first year of Vehicle Excise Duty into the monthly cost, effectively rendering the only clear policy signal to discourage high-carbon vehicles useless.
Professor Jillian Anable, UKERC Co-Director said, “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’.
“Effectively, we have been sleep-walking into the issue. The decarbonisation of the passenger car market can no longer rely on a distant target to stop the sales of conventional engines. We must start to phase out the most polluting vehicles immediately. It is time to enact a strong set of regulations to transform the entire car market towards ultra low carbon rather than focusing solely on the uptake of electric vehicles.”